by Dave Jarecki
I mentioned to my boss some time ago that, in the hopes of spurring creativity, I needed to paint the one bare wall of my office blue. Being the staunch, business minded, well-to-do Republican creative director that he was, he relented. His subtle touch of Napoleon syndrome and the way his thinning highlighted hair barely laid over his larger-than-normal cranium gave one the impression that he was of a higher intellect. To even have approached him with such a request was a slap to his well-manicured ego. He was the former ad director for Mr. H. Ross Perot, prior to the pie graphs, whose once in a great while drink was never more than a house vodka cranberry or a Corona Light (I had no idea such an abomination existed). He was a type-A, right down to the worn armrests of his office chair in which he would franticly bob back and forth like a boy about to pee himself while waiting for questions, answers, or both. He wanted nothing of my blue wall. The office was intentionally white to fit the building’s existing décor, he said. Never mind the bizarre collage I’d started on the wall above my desk, that of nude postcards from Africa, cross-country snapshots and clips of President Bush stuck in odd facial contortions that made him look horribly incompetent, a trick played by our smart-assed media. The long wall to the right was to stay white. This remained so until the owner, with his penchant for manic fits of mischief, followed by depressive crashes that found him moping through the building like a man wearing soiled shorts, reminded both the creative director and me that I wanted my wall blue. This sent the boss into my office on a workplace Friday agreeing to let me paint it, so long as he saw the pallets before I wetted the roller.
I had forgotten completely about this, only once or twice since then bringing it up to Lady, jokingly so at that, as if she and I would run out and spend a weekend hour investigating the Home Depots and Sherwin Williams of the world searching for the perfect blue. I had gotten used to the white and didn’t see the need. When the subject was raised, usually coming from the mouth of the owner on one of his upswings, I shrugged it off and told him I’d be doing it shortly, figuring he’d soon forget.
At random, I found myself in a paint store. For no other reason but to feed my own curiosity, I made my way to the extensive racks of flowing paint chips to view prospective options. I’d given up on the idea of a blue wall invoking the muse into my copy writing schtik. How much creativity could I provide a place that asked me to write about the benefits of nutritional yeast, a blood pressure cuff that expanded to fit comfortably around the arms of my obese brethren, and a plastic chair designed by a ninety old man that flipped upside down and was meant to relieve lower back pain? If advertising was about duping the public, than working in advertising was about duping yourself: There really was nothing out there.
I sifted through the blues as if searching for an old shirt that I hadn’t seen in some time. I didn’t actually want to wear the shirt. I merely wanted to see if it was still there. Cobalt blue, a grayish that I’ve used to describe Lady’s eyes. Starry night blue, dark and foreboding. The noteworthy Crayola blues of youth, navy and royal. Late day blue, a newer one I supposed. Cornflower blue, a trip toward white. Twain blue. Twain blue? I looked again. As in Mark Twain? I wasn’t sure. Why Twain blue? For Twain I saw red, like the tie I’ve always seen him depicted as having worn. Or another color, somewhere on the wheel between yellow and brown and belonging to the banks of the Reconstruction-era Mississippi. I didn’t know much Twain, having read only bits of what I was prescribed during adolescence and never being much a fan of Huck and Tom. Perhaps if I knew Twain, I’d understand the blue. For me, blue belonged more to Kerouac, with his Book of Blues, the blue skies under which he wandered, and his soul, crying out blue for mankind, the blue jazz of his America.
I contemplated bringing the chips back to the office as a means of opening another series of meaningless debates between the creative director and myself, but rather returned them to their rightful racks. I still had no intention of painting the wall. I was more consumed with the idea of Twain blue. Were all noteworthy American writers designated with a color? What would Hemingway receive? I saw green, for The Green Hills of Africa, or the green hardcover book of his I was reading, even green representing the excesses of the 20s from which he was lost. Or would Fitzgerald be green, for the green light on the other end of Gatsby’s harbor? Would Jack London be white, for White Fang or the grayish white of a sled dog’s coat or the color of San Francisco buried in ash? I was told that Nabakov chose colors of books based on how they felt. For him I saw yellow, though I didn’t know why.
Was Twain pure chance? Perhaps someone was feeling literary that day in the naming room of the paint factory where the chips were created and the paint’s dye formulated. Who said it had anything to do with Mark Twain the writer? As a noun, twain meant two, a couple, a pair. Perhaps Twain blue was the product of two distinct blues, a dark and a light, the marriage of midnight and morning.
How would Twain feel if he knew of Twain blue? I imagine, presuming the writer came before the hue, he’d take it one of two ways: another sign of literary immortality, to have a color named in one’s behalf, or pure gratuitous use of an identity, something to make Samuel Langhorne Clemens shake his head. Then again, perhaps it was simply the product of some invisible copywriter scraping around on the bottom of his tank of clever ideas.